Dumbo The Flying Elephant may appear to be the simplest of the roughly 16 opening-year attractions that remain in the Magic Kingdom. After all, constructing a carnival spinning coaster does not appear to be a brilliant accomplishment of Imagineering, but there is more to Dumbo than meets the eye. The explanation may be traced back to the early plans for Walt Disney’s first Magic Kingdom in Disneyland.
Originally conceived by Imagineer Bruce Bushman as an attraction based on Dumbo’s vision of “Pink Elephants on Parade,” it was sensibly determined that younger guests may prefer flying with Dumbo himself.
While Disneyland was supposed to be a step above from sideshows and sleazy carnivals, Walt and his crew took guidance from some of those operators, most notably Dave Bradley, proprietor of Bradley’s Beverly Park in Los Angeles, who gathered vintage attractions he thought would have enduring appeal. Bradley informed Bushman that a successful ride puts the consumer on display. In the case of Dumbo, this entails giving youngsters, who are frequently instructed what to do, power over how high or low Dumbo soars, selling the attractive concept that they were each flying their own elephant.
Dumbo was an instant hit with Disneyland guests in 1955, and it remains one of the few attractions that is offered at all of Disney’s sites around the world. While many celebrities have ridden Dumbo, it is believed that former US President Harry S. Truman, a Democrat, declined to ride in 1957 since elephants are, of course, a Republican emblem.
Originally, each Dumbo’s ears were supposed to flap as the ride rose and fell, but the effect never worked correctly. That wasn’t the only early blunder. Walt commissioned Disney icon and animator-turned-Disney-sculptor Blaine Gibson to create Dumbo’s buddy Timothy Q. Mouse “conducting” the elephants with a whip (later changed to a magic feather).
According to the Disney Archives, the original sculpt fractured while drying because someone wanted a sneak peek. Gibson later discovered who his excited coworker was.
“It was Walt (Disney) that came in, but he didn’t know quite what the art of keeping it sealed was. It didn’t bother me.”
It’s difficult to remain angry at the man who signs the paychecks. Gibson restored “Timothy” in time for the ride’s launch in 1955.
The image above shows Walt Disney World’s original Dumbo under construction in 1971. It debuted, like Disneyland, with ten “flying elephants”. The Tokyo version also has ten Dumbos. Florida’s version was enlarged to 16 with a new ride mechanism installed in 1993, however you may notice something is lacking from the 1971 original: the Dumbos aren’t wearing caps.
The lost caps returned before the photograph above was taken in 1973. On top, you can see a replica of Timothy Mouse cracking the whip. The ride’s initial position in the center of Walt Disney World’s Fantasyland, behind the Carousel and in front of the far side of the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride’s lagoon, was definitely one of the reasons for its success. One of the new castle walls erected to the edge of New Fantasyland’s “Enchanted Forest” currently stands at that location.
Because Dumbo has remained so popular throughout the years, when New Fantasyland was created, it was granted its own mini-land named “Storybook Circus.” In fact, The Magic Kingdom has been the only Disney park to offer dueling Dumbos since 2012. A new version of the attraction was erected adjacent to the one that had been transferred from “old” Fantasyland. The new Dumbo is the only one in the world that spins clockwise.
The lines are moving significantly faster now that 32 elephants can fly at once. In addition, Storybook Circus included a perk for parents: an air-conditioned inside play area where kids may let off steam while waiting in a virtual line, however this has not been used since the pandemic’s reopening.
Another Florida-only feature, not far from the dueling Dumbos, will help keep the small ones cool. Characters from the 1941 cartoon film appear at Casey Jr.’s Splash & Soak Station.
It’s not exactly a “hidden Mickey,” but each “train car” in the splash pad area is labeled with a number: Each of Walt Disney World’s major theme parks opened in 1971, 1982, 1989, and 1998. So, what is the lasting attraction of what appears to be one of the most basic rides in any Disney park?
Imagineer Alex Wright compliments the simplicity, the attractiveness of the character, and putting young visitors in control in The Imagineering Field Guide to Disneyland: “Dumbo the Flying Elephant is often the first attraction visited by a new young guest and is consistently one of the most popular rides in the Park for tots, even though the film upon which it was based was first released way back in 1941.”
Normally, from atop the ride’s marquee, the same Timothy Mouse figure who previously “cracked the whip” turns and waves Dumbo’s “magic feather” to children of all ages. Let’s hope he was simply on vacation when I snapped the above shot last weekend. And don’t forget to “Believe and Soar.”
Sid Philips is a father of two and a loving husband. He currently resides in Pennsylvania and has been a fan of Disney since his parents took him there in 1980! Sid has visited multiple Disney parks around the world and loves each one!
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